Robots will collaborate with warehouse workers, not replace them, vendors say
Robot applications for logistics over the next decade
will focus more on collaborating with human warehouse
employees than replacing them outright, experts at a conference held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Industrial robot vendors are adding material handling
capabilities to solve “low-hanging fruit” challenges of
mobility, item location, and placement, said Jerome Dubois,
co-founder of Waltham, Mass.-based warehouse robotics
vendor 6 River Systems Inc. These products can boost warehouse worker productivity by two to three times without
replacing the jobs they’re doing, he said during a panel at
the “TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics” conference.
“Ultimately, we might have empty warehouses with
people walking around outside without having to do that
work,” Dubois said. “But ... for a long, long time, there will
be plenty to do for robots in collaborating with human
As robot vendors continue to build devices that work side
by side with warehouse workers, they are continuing to
improve software and hardware to create simpler designs,
according to Dubois. “We have to simplify operations to
make them easy to use for an operator who may or may not
have a high school degree,” Dubois said.
One source of inspiration is the type of consumer elec-
tronics device that features videogame-based interfaces,
such as the popular “Candy Crush” game played on smart-
phones. “The retention of skilled labor is incredibly expen-
sive for these companies, so we need to make products that
are easy to work with and fun to work with,” Dubois said.
Creating warehouse robots with fun, familiar interfaces
will help bring the technology to a wider market, spurring
demand throughout the industry, the panelists agreed.
Another way that robot vendors can find more applica-
tions in the DC is to design robots that can operate in a
warehouse without expensive retrofitting, said Clara Vu,
CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Veo Robotics Inc., a devel-
oper of collaborative robotic picking arms.
“Logistics has been less automated than manufacturing,
because people have always thought that if you wanted to
add automation, you had to automate your entire line,”
Vu said. “But now they are realizing that’s not true—you
can drop in robotics at a specific point in your line where it
makes the most sense.”
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